I have a confession to make. Because of a mix-up and the fact that we were three sharing one Berlinale pass, I was unable to go to any of the movies I had selected. Thankfully, I was not that fussed about it and got some different tickets. One of them was En ganske snill mann, which I have already reviewed. I had high expectations for that one, but it turned out to be rather bland. The other movie kind of scared me. But, as it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised and traumatized by Caterpillar.
The way to tell the story
Caterpillar is a Japanese movie telling the tale of a wife whose man comes home a cripple at the start of the second world war, in 1941. Because he lost his arms, legs and the ability to speak in China, he is considered a Japanese War God and it is up to his wife to take care of this highly honorable person.
If you think this movie was all about stereotypical misery, you’re clearly mistaken. The first cliche ending gets broken right away: while the opening credits were rolling, I was sure the movie would end with a broken women choking her husband. I was pleasantly surprised to see the movie tackle this in the first five minutes, and then move on.
By doing this, the story instantly became something else: it’s the story of a strong, Japanese woman in war-times, defending her honor and doubting her home country and war in general. Her crippled husband was just a catalist, a way to tell this story.
Eat, sleep, something something
And that’s the nice thing about this movie. It’s not deliberately showing you anything. It just tosses light on certain moments in the couple’s daily life. Through these moments, you are free to construct your own backstory. You are also free not to. It doesn’t matter and the story doesn’t care. It just happens as it goes along.
It’s also good to see a movie making such good use of sex. One of the backstories revolves around it in its entirety, linking the two characters together (and I mean this not just in the physical sense). Sex goes from lust, to disappointment, to rape, to trauma, to an entire turnaround of the trauma and reversed rape. But once again, the movie doesn’t tell you this. You have to enter inside it and look around for a bit. Go for a walk in it.
I wish I could write like this. I wish I could hide a dramaturgic construct behind an iconic story that is actually just a theme setting for something much larger: a history, a country and a war. I can forgive the movie for taking the educational road (I know how many people died in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the second World War in general, thank you very much). It just doesn’t matter. The rest was just so impressive. There’s at least twenty movies behind this movie. Unbelievable.